Daily Discovery Series: Raspberry Brownie Bars

I haven’t added to the Daily Discovery series in a long time, and what I’m about to show you is worth the reboot of the series.

What I’m about to show you might change your life.

Because I think they have changed mine. They’re beautiful, just sweet enough, and don’t involve too many ingredients.

They’re raw raspberry brownie bars that I came across while scrolling through one of my favorite websites, Mind Body Green. You can go here for the full recipe, but here are a few changes I made:

I swapped out all the sugary items (dates, maple syrup) for agave nectar, since that’s what I had on hand. I sweetened each of the layers a small amount at a time, tasting along the way.
Here are a few other changes I made to the base layer of the brownie bars:

- For the nuts, I used almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts.
– I added a pinch of salt.
– I added a tsp of vanilla extract.

For the base layer, it says to blend the nuts in a blender. If you don’t think your blender could handle it, or if you just don’t have a blender, use a ziploc bag and something to smash the nuts with. I used a rolling pin. You get just as delicious a base layer.

The resulting bars are beautiful, cold, and sweet. They’re chocolaty in a dark chocolate sort of way. If you’re not a fan of dark chocolate, you will probably want to add more sweetness to the chocolate layers, or add in more vanilla to take off the edge of the dark bitter taste.

You could make these anytime. As they say on Parks and Recreation, “Treat yo self!”

I encourage you to try these bars, whether with the changes I made or with the original recipe. And be sure to go over to the site and thank the recipe’s author for such delicious and gorgeous bars.

Small Kitchen Cooking: Sometimes, Simpler is Better

It’s easy, when you discover that not only do you know how to cook but that you love cooking, to get caught up in the pretty food magazines and recipes you find on Pinterest. When I first started out with exploring the kitchen and finally cooking, I would have stacks of complicated or extensive recipes that would leave me standing in the kitchen when I finally got home from the grocery store wandering why in the world I had just bought a bunch of stuff for a one-off recipe.

Over the past four years that I’ve been cooking, I’ve learned something: sometimes, simpler is better. Instead of roasting my potatoes in a bunch of different spices, I’ve discovered tossing them in olive oil, salt, and pepper does the trick. Sure, I still love to make complicated, fun, and new recipes, but I’ve really enjoyed learning that I don’t need all the fancy things to make a really good meal.

Joey Lawrence’s character on Melissa and Joey summed it up recently in an episode I was watching, where he’s teaching the teenage boy, Ryder, how to cook:

“If the world had only olive oil, garlic, and onions, they would be able to rebuild in about a month.”

Sometimes, making a gourmet-tasting meal comes from few ingredients. It’s also fun to make something new and complicated.

Just don’t become overwhelmed. Know that when you’re discovering your kitchen and stretching out your cooking legs, go for the simple things. See how those turn out. See how they taste. Build upon them if you want. And don’t be afraid to try the complicated from time to time.

Happy cooking!

Beautiful You: Ways to Stay out of the Fear Zone

When you trap fears inside your head and you never release them, those fears are only going to grow more powerful and strong. They’ll take hold of you and, probably without knowing you’re even doing it, you’ll take root in them.

Disclaimer: These are not medical opinions, but my own. I am not a doctor. These are the things that I’ve practiced and realize help me.

But you don’t have too. When you’re trapped inside the fear-space (or “the fear zone”) in your head, here are a few ways to snap back to the present:

1. Kick the icky feeling by looking at something in front of you: your dog, a friend, grass outside the window, a flower, or a new tab on your computer, or refocus on what you’re trying to work on.
2. If you have the chance, I like what Gabrielle Bernstein suggests: write it down. Really think about where you were traveling off to in fear-land. Write down those thoughts. What Gabrielle suggests is to then change the fear into something positive.
3. Do a downward dog. Yoga has completely changed my life when it comes to coming back to the present and releasing fears. If you are able to, turn on a short yoga video, do a couple of stretches, or simply stand up. This gives you the chance to do something different; you’ll be able to change your thought pattern. (If you’re looking for a yoga teacher, I always suggest going to Tara Stiles’ yoga channel.
4. Say it out loud. Whether you believe in God or not, say your fears out loud. I like to pray. And then I try to meditate afterward, or simply focus on taking a few deep breaths. I also like to pull out my Bible and read a few quotes of Scripture that ease my worries, or I grab my small notebook of encouraging and uplifting quotes from people I admire.
5. Take a deep breath. Speaking of taking deep breaths, just taking one can change your whole mindset. Often and without knowing it, we’ll begin to breathe shallowly. This can lead to anxiety or panic attacks, or just an overall feeling of nervousness. Sit up straight and take a slow, deep breath. Then see how you feel afterward.
6. Drink a cold glass of water. The refreshing coolness will help wake you up and drag you out of that fear way of thinking. And sometimes, the nervousness I feel just goes away after drinking a glass of cold water.

I hope these tips will help you be able to release your fears (or being trapped inside future-tripping fear thoughts) and return yourself to the present, so you can live fully and happily.

Small Kitchen Cooking: Poached Eggs Aren’t Terrifying [Recipe]

I made poached eggs on Sunday morning because I was tired of seeing so many gosh-darn delightful looking recipes and me being to scared to try them. I don’t know about you, but I’ve stayed away from attempting to make poached eggs because I’ve heard how intimidating it can be.

But this morning, I cracked open one of my cookbook essentials, Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,” and got to work. And it wasn’t terrifying. I used a 1 cup measuring cup and cracked each egg in there, using the cup to place the eggs into the water, one at a time. And then I turned on the timer and waited for 5 minutes.

But that was it.

Nothing to it.

The result? Well, I will admit, I don’t think I added enough water to my saucepan, because the eggs had no white tops! It was kind of cute, actually. Despite their missing tops, the poached eggs were everything I’ve heard they are: silky, smooth, and light. Gorgeous to look at, and delicate to eat. I savored every moment. And now I don’t think I’ll ever look at fried or scrambled eggs the same way again. I’ll always be left with this sinking feeling of “if only I had poached eggs.”

Believe me, they’re worth trying. They’re not terrifying. Just go out there and try it.

Next on my list of intimidating foods I’ve avoided making? Souffle. I have no plans to make it anytime soon.

Happy Tuesday! What’s your favorite way to have poached eggs? I had mine over hashbrowns, sauteed bell peppers, and sharp cheddar cheese.

Here’s another way I want to try them:

Arugula, Asparagus, and Poached Eggs

Small Kitchen Cooking: Learning how to cook

Learning how to cook isn’t difficult, but from the overwhelming amounts of cookbooks, online recipe sites like FoodGawker and AllRecipes, blogs, and good ol’ fashioned cookbooks, it can seem like an overwhelming task to take on. But it isn’t. Or it shouldn’t be. It’s actually very simple: just cook.

After college and while I was unemployed, in between searching sites for job listings, I stumbled across Oh She Glows. It came from the Glamour Vitamin G blog, and it was for apple cupcakes. This involved no cooking, obviously, but it was so different in a such a simple way that I became curious. And so I kept searching. I discovered blog after blog, asked for a cookbook for Christmas, and started trying out different recipes on my two roommates and my sister. (Lesson No.1 I learned: do NOT use fresh spinach in a quiche.)

Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that cooking isn’t challenging at its core. There are complicated or tiresome recipes such as beouf bourginion (see the movie Julie and Julia and you’ll know what I’m talking about) or souffle (still haven’t tried to attempt that one) but at its core, cooking is simple. And don’t worry about being creative right at first: start simple. Here are some of my tips to get you into your kitchen.

1. Read the recipe before deciding to make it. Too many times I’ve started a recipe and halfway through realized it took an hour of cooking, when I only had a half hour. Or one of the ingredients I could have sworn I had was gone. Cooking is easier when you look over the recipe and go through your kitchen. Take everything out that you’re going to need and place it on your counter. As you use the ingredients, put them back.

2. Sometimes simple is better. Just last week, I had a craving for pasta sauce. I went over to my pantry and thought about what I’d needed. I had tomatoes, oregano, fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil. Toss it all together and it was the best pasta sauce I think I’ve had ( with the exception of my middle sister’s amazing meat pasta sauce.) Do you love pasta and avocado? Then this avocado pasta from Oh She Glows is an incredibly easy dish to make. Pizza Margherita is easy too and gorgeous. (If you’re worried about making the dough, you can buy fresh premade dough.)

3. Don’t be afraid to look it up or call a friend. I can’t ever remember how to boil eggs. Do I put the eggs in with the water before I start to boil it? Every time, I look it up. Something so simple you think I’d remember right? (And I can remember how to make crepes from scratch without looking up the recipe.) Don’t be afraid to look up recipes, techniques, or call a friend. There are great Youtube channels out there such as this one from Tara Stiles and this other one from Fresh Princess. You’ll notice that their recipes are simple and easy to make. (Not to mention that Tara has a cookbook coming out in November that I cannot wait to get my hands on.)

4. Start slow. If you’re just starting out getting comfortable with your kitchen, try cooking at least one meal a week homemade. Find a simple recipe (if it has over 10 ingredients, I’d skip it. Go for the easy recipes, like this 4 ingredient pasta sauce inspired by Mark Bittman’s tomato pasta sauce recipe in his How to Cook Everything cookbook.)

I’ll leave you with those for now.

Monday Night Pasta Sauce

Last week I wanted a bright and very tomato-y pasta sauce. Mark Bittman, in his cookbook “How to Cook Everything,” has several variations on tomato pasta sauce. I combined the spiced, garlicky, and spicy versions together to make this very simple and delicious pasta sauce. It doesn’t take very long to prep or cook, making it a great and quick weeknight meal. Try it and let me know how you like it!

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes (or diced), in their liquid
1 small can of tomato sauce
8 leaves fresh basil, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt, pepper, oregano, to taste
2 servings spaghetti noodles, cooked according to package instruction
shredded Parmesan or pecorino Romano, for garnish

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.
2. Add the garlic to the pan and saute for 2 minutes, or until the garlic starts to brown slightly. (I’ve learned that if you can smell the garlic, it’s ready.)
3. If you’re using whole tomatoes, chop them first before adding them. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce, and season with the oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the minced basil.
4. Let everything simmer over medium heat for 10-20 minutes.
5. While the sauce is simmering, boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.
6. Strain the pasta and add into the sauce. Turn off the heat to the pasta sauce. Top each individual serving with the rest of the fresh basil and cheese.
7. Enjoy!

Beautiful You: Ways to Ease Anxiety and Help Sleeplessness

Happy Thursday everyone! As promised, I want to share a few tips and tricks that I’ve played around with and that work for me to help ease anxiety and help sleeplessness. (Though I am sorry this wasn’t up on Monday.)

First, a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. These are non-medical opinions and tips that have worked for me to ease my anxiety, panic attacks, and sleeplessness.

1. Supplements. Every day I try to take passionflower (calms the nervous system), and Vitamin B Complex (balances moods, gives you energy, etc.).

2. Prayer, devotional, and journaling. This works for all hours of the day, but I like to do it morning and night. Take a moment, it doesn’t have to be long, to write down the things that are making you anxious or unable to sleep, or just say them out loud. And I mean everything. Even the things you may consider silly, not really a problem, etc. If you keep those thoughts in your head, they will continue to only grow bigger and more scary, causing more anxiety. Release them through prayer and meditation or through writing. Be as specific as you can. God will hear you.
Read some of your favorite quotes, passage from a book, Scripture, etc. Read something that connects you to God. Read something that just makes your relax.

3. Move. I practice yoga for calming my mind, and I recently bought a mini trampoline to help get some cardio in throughout my day. Jumping on the trampoline also helps clear my mind, get my heart pumping, and energy levels up. Do something that can get you to clear your mind and tire your body out. I like to choose a time when my anxiousness sometimes feels the highest (usually around that 3 p.m. slump)

4. Avoid Caffeine. I hated to admit this to myself, but caffeine really increases my anxiety, especially in the morning. It’s not that I’ve had to say goodbye to my cup of Joe, oh no. It means that I’ve become mindful of the days when I need to avoid it. When I wake up calm and relaxed, I may enjoy a cup. But not everyday. Try to avoid things with caffeine, because it will increase your anxiety and it can create sleeplessness.

5. Shower or take a bath. This is relatively new to me, but it’s a great way to calm the mind and ease the body into a restful night’s sleep. I’ve been taking a quick shower at night. It helps clear my mind and by rinsing off I feel I’m washing off the day I’ve had and clearing my mind for a good night’s rest.

. Drink Tea. Though this can be done throughout the day, drinking chamomille, lavender, or peppermint tea has greatly helped with me getting a good night’s rest. I like to drink these calming teas whenever I feel sleepless or anxious. DO you ever feel nauseous because of anxiety or lack of sleep? Ginger is a miracle worker.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that drinking any decaffeinated tea that you really, really love will help ease anxiety. I’ve noticed this myself. My favorite teas include:

Yogi Lavender and Honey
Twinings Peppermint
Twinings Chamomille
Good Earth Sweet and Spicy
Stash Ginger and Lemon

6. Lights out. Quit using a computer or other screen within an hour or so of bedtime. For me, this works because my body seems to know that when I put the computer away or turn the television off, it’s time to get ready for bed. I also use a fan (if you don’t like a fan and don’t want to buy a sound machine, I’d consider using a sleep app. The background noise you can focus on and it will help you fall asleep.)

7. Deep breaths. Practicing yoga has helped me learn when I’m breathing too shallow, which can stir up anxious feelings. When you learn about deep breathing, and how we do too little of it, you’ll realize just what you’ve been missing. I’ve used this technique from Gabrielle Bernstein many times when feeling anxiety creep it, and it re-centers me and helps me get back on my way.

8. Drink water or eat. It may seem sily, but avoiding a snack or a meal could be causing your anxiety or keeping you from sleeping well (going to bed with a growling stomach is not fun). I’ve heard eating a banana about a half hour before bedtime helps, because of it’s melatonin content. (Melatonin is the chemical our body releases to help us relax and sleep.) In general, if you are starving by the time you get to a meal, you’ll probably notice your anxiety will be up. Try to avoid this by choosing good-for-you snacks, like an apple and a piece of cheddar cheese, and avoid sugary stuff. Sugar is not good for anxiety. And before diving into a snack or meal, try seeing if a glass of water will fill you up. (Sometimes my anxiety will creep in simply because I’m thirsty!)

And that’s it for now. I hope these tips will help you in some way. Remember, everyone will have different tips and tricks that help them in some way. These, in no particular order, are mine.

Peaceful minds and sleep-filled nights to you! (I love how Kris Carr signs off on her newsletters this way.)

Ashley